Writing a Dream Class for the World Wide Web
Grant MacEwan Community College
This paper was presented at the annual meeting of the Association for the Study of Dreams, Berkeley, Calif., 1996.
Having taught credit and noncredit dream classes numerous times over the last 20 years, recently Grant MacEwan Community College asked me to write a five lesson, non-credit dream class to launch their World Wide Web (WWW) course offerings. In this presentation I will talk about the course I designed and the unique opportunities as well as limitations of offering such material on a web site.
The course was conceptualized as an overview of dreams for the general Internet public. Thus the course I wrote is a five lesson introductory module. If there is sufficient interest further detailed modules will be offered.
One of the major differences between this course and other courses typically offered on the Internet is that this is offered on a WWW site and not simply sent as e-mail. The advantages of this method of delivery over e-mail is that it allows the student a higher degree of control over what material they want to read and what aspect of the assignments they are interested in pursuing. Thus each student tailors their own course. This mode does not preclude simply downloading a lesson/assignment or e-mailing same to students. However, writing the course with the interactivity inherent on a web site page did present unique problems and opportunities.
Because of the potential for numerous registrants in the course the use of the web page format allows maximum individuality. For the first offering of the course which is planned for the spring of 1996, at the end of each lesson students are asked to do an assignment to be sent in by a prearranged date. Once a body of data is gathered on these assignments students can proceed through the assignments at their own pace and receive feedback on each assignment based on previous enrollments and normative data. Before the due date for the second assignment, they will be e-mailed the summary of the information gathered in the previous assignment. This cycle will continue until the end of the course. The majority of assignments will be in the form of answering closed ended questions regarding the students dreams. By using this device the classes aggregate statistics can be fed back to the individual student which will allow he/she to contextualize their dream and further interpret/understand its potential meaning. The information from each registrant for each assignment will be linked so that information from previous assignments can be used to feed back to the student body more detailed information about the response/reaction to the current assignment.
Throughout the course the perspective of who is an authority on ones dream will be that it is the dreamer. This will be repeatedly stressed in order, as much as possible, to keep the responsibility of what the student derives from the course about their own dreams very much within the psychological perspective of the individual student. Furthermore, the e-mail addresses of the class participants will be held confidential. Not until the course is over will they be given the opportunity to contact other students and then only those who wish to be contacted.
At the end of the course students who show an interest, will be given the opportunity to enroll in further dream modules which explore some aspect of dreaming in more detail. If they desire they will also be put in touch with others on the net who enrolled in the course in order to continue their dream work in a supportive group setting. In the next section is a brief summary of the five lessons and assignments for the course entitled, "Unlocking the Secrets of Your Dreams".
Here is a brief outline of the lessons and assignments. This outline is also available on the registration page for the course:
Lesson #1 - Introduction to Dreaming
Summary: The latest psychological, clinical and cross cultural scholarly work into these remarkable experiences of the night are offered so that the student can develop a working understanding of the process of dreaming. How to recall dreams and techniques for dream diarying are covered.
Assignment: Class registrants are asked to fill out a basic demographic questionnaire including questions concerning their sleeping and dreaming habits and preferences and selected items from Kuiken's "Dream Response Questionnaire". A feature of this and future assignments is that for some of the closed ended questions students can find out how most people answer it before they answer it. Although this compromises any potential research integrity of the questions it enhances the students choices and thus the learning experience.
Lesson #2 - What Do Most People Dream About?
Summary: The typical content of peoples dreams is presented followed by techniques for ascertaining the content of ones own dreams relative to the Hall and VandeCastle norms. The cultural or other group relativity of these norms is pointed out to the student. It is again stressed that the dreamer and not the course instructor, friends, psychotherapists, scientists or anyone else is the owner of their dream and thus the final authority on his/her dream.
Assignment: The dreamer is asked to answer various questions about the content of their typical dreams. College student norms from this dream questionnaire are available to the student for selected items. The students aggregate responses will be classified as a function of sex and other demographic variables as considered appropriate (i.e., country, ethnic group, age, etc.) and fed back to the individual students via e-mail. Eventually these data will also be available to the student as he/she takes the class.
Lesson #3 - Dreamwork Tools & Techniques
Summary: In this assignment the role of metaphor in interpreting dreams is stressed although the pure enjoyment value of dreams is also pointed out. Two techniques are presented in this lesson. First is a technique which I compiled from various sources and is designed to be done by the individual working alone. I also included Gayle Delaney's Definition Dream Analysis technique.
Assignment: There are two parts to the assignment. In the first part the student is asked to work with a dream of their own and generate metaphors within a closed ended, multiple option question form. This allows them to both get in touch with the concept of metaphor and to get some feel for their own metaphoric system used in their dreams. This exercise is in part taken from research done by Don Kuiken on dream metaphor and in part is an original design for this course and can be done up to ten times. Following the metaphor exercise, students are asked to do the individual guided imagery technique discussed in this lesson which I designed. As part of doing the individual technique they are asked to answer largely closed ended questions regarding the directions they went with each step in the technique.
Lesson #4 - Dream Connectedness
Summary: In this lesson dreams are discussed from the perspective of family, community, and culture. Although dreams are certainly a deeply personal experience there are many ways in which dreams can be viewed in a broader context. It is pointed out that this broadening leaves the individual dreamer with a sense of "connectedness" ranging from dreaming about members of ones family to a dream about an organization to which the student may belong to a "spiritual" dream leaving the student with a feeling of connection to the divine. This lesson begins with a brief discussion of the contemporary dreamwork movement and an introduction to a community based dreamwork technique designed by Montaque Ullman. This community connectedness theme is then continued with a discussion of the dream attitudes and practices of North American Native peoples; Jungian concepts of the collective unconscious and the archetypal dreams which emerge from it; and finally the work on lucid/witnessing dreams which is conceptualized from a neo-Hindu point of view.
Assignment: The student is given a choice of one of two assignments. One of them is based on Ullman's group dream interpretation technique. They have an opportunity to join a dream group of others from the class and with their input process one of their own dreams. Limitations and cautions around participating in this assignment are pointed out to the student. If students choose to participate there are various procedures which have been put in place to make this a psychologically "safe" activity. For instance, responses to a dream will not go directly to other group members but rather they will be routed through the server with certain criterion for wording (i.e., "In my dream . . . ") and then sent on to the dreamer and other group members stripped of e-mail addresses. A second assignment choice is offered. This one is a dream problem solving task where the dreamer is asked to put their dream to work to solve a current problem in their life.
Lesson #5 - Selected Topics and Future Directions
Summary: The point of this lesson is to give the student a brief overview of the various directions one can go when studying dreams. Drawing on the work of Harry Hunt I point out that from the perspective of most people it is the intensified forms of dreaming that are provocative. They are certainly the dreams that we easily recall. All the cultures of the world have spoken of these intensified forms of dreaming although in the dream research literature the scientific emphasis has been on collecting dreams from the dream laboratory.
Assignment: After filling out a course evaluation and indicating any interest in taking future dream modules, students will be offered the opportunity to receive a list of e-mail addresses of others in the class who are interested in pursuing group dreamwork. This list will be narrowed by individually selected demographic variables so one student will get no more than a dozen names and e-mail addresses of people who shared an interest in a certain set of demographics (i.e., an all female group).
Each lesson/assignment is made available at a prearranged date and students enter the lesson and/or assignment on or after that date from the home page by clicking on the title of the summary or assignment (in italics above). The course runs for six weeks (one lesson/assignment takes two weeks). It costs $39 (US) or $49 (Canadian).
Also available on the dream course home page is a list of dream information related to the course. These include:
Below is a table summarizing the amount of material written for each lesson and each assignment. This does not include the material for the course home page which is summarized above. The page estimates are based on double spaced, 12 point Times type:
*In some cases, especially assignment #3, there are extensive programming notes in the assignment which contribute to these page estimates.
Writing Lesson Content:
Because the course is offered on a web site, which allows for extensive use of hyperlinking, the writing of the course had to be done in small bits of information which stand on their own. That is, after an introduction to the unit the student is presented with a table of contents for the topics included in that unit and can read the unit through linearly or skip around in the topics picking which are most interesting or relevant for them. For instance, after a brief introduction to lesson #1 the student can choose from this table of subtopics:
In addition to the demand to write in relatively fully contained idea units, the level of the writing had to remain rather elementary because of the potential target market. Also much of the writing was done in the first person in order to enhance the felt experience of the student of being in a dialogue with the instructor. Thus personal examples from the authors own life and work were used in an effort to personalize the instruction.
Writing Assignment Content:
The assignments were designed to be primarily closed ended questionnaires with ample opportunity for commentary and dialogue. Here is an example of a closed ended item from the first assignment:
This allows for a containment of the information gathered and thus an easier feedback process to the students. That is because the information gathered is with limited choices/responses, the shape of the students information is quickly understood with relatively simple statistics. Additionally, this form of response appeals to students in terms of increasing the likelihood that they will initially fill out the questionnaire. As they become more confortable with the material they tend to prefer more open ended items. Opportunities for comment are provided at the end of each close ended questionnaire and in many places in the later assignments where the analysis of their own dreams becomes more a focus of the course. The feedback reports for the first three assignments are appended to this report.
An important contribution of a web site based assignment is the opportunity to take advantage of hyperlinking to increase the information possibilities and structural potentials for learning. On a relatively simple level when filling out questionnaires people are often curious about how others may have answered a particular item. In some assignments the student can link to such normative data. For instance, this item is taken from assignment #2:
The student can then click on a box labeled "Norm Data" and receives this information:
They are then offered another box labeled "Return to Question 15" so they can return to where they were in the assignment.
Although from a researchers perspective this may bias the students response it helps, especially with sensitive material, to encourage the student to realize that their experiences are not as unusual as they often fear when working with dreams. Thus educationally and psychologically this is an advantage for the learner.
On a more complex level hyperlinking allows for the creative design of assignments. Part of the third assignment was an activity designed to help the student understand the nature of metaphor as dream language is largely metaphoric. First the student is led through a metaphor generating activity for their chosen dream imagery. Then after they have been through the activity once, they are provided with multiple options to further personalize their dream interpretation. Specifically they are initially asked to think of a dream animal as a metaphor for a particular dream action (say they dreamt of running through the woods and think of a deer as an animal metaphor for their dream activity of running through the woods). After having done this and answered a series of questions about their choice they submit this part of the questionnaire with their ID. The students are then given the opportunity to do the same exercise 10 more times with ten different dream aspects (like dream characters, dream emotions, etc.) which can be associated with multiple potential metaphors (like buildings, weather, etc.). After each sequence of dream aspect/metaphor they are asked the same questions.
For the fourth assignment the students are given an opportunity to participate in an on-line dream group. The model of these groups is that they are leaderless and without theoretical assumption. After acknowledging that they have read a series of ‘groundrules’ which not only explain the procedure of the groups but also the ethical aspects of working in a dream group in any setting, the student is assigned to a dream group. The form of these on-line dream groups is using a bulletin board to which they can post their responses to the dreams of their classmates. These dream group postings are monitored by the instructor to insure the psychological appropriateness of the various groups participation. Suggestions for appropriate posting on a bulletin board as well as the basic outline of the group procedure are available to the student each time they access their dream group bulletin boards. The students can participate anonymously, simply read postings without posting themselves or give details about themselves in the text of their postings. This allows for a wide variety of self-disclose as is comfortable for the various participants.
The final assignment serves as a course evaluation and feedback vehicle for the students. They are also given an opportunity in this assignment to indicate future dream classes they may like to take and to sign up for on-line dream groups.
2. Editing/conceptual feedback
After each module was written it was read over for academic integrity by a colleague who also has considerable expertise in the dream literature, Russ Powell. Dr. Powell’s job was to ensure that the content of the class represented not only the general thinking of the field but also fit with the image of Grant MacEwan Community College as a provider of higher education. This external read for substance was most helpful and in some instances instrumental in the shaping of the content of the material.
3. Secretarial assistance/tape transcription
Due to time restrictions and in order to get the flavor of lectured material, the initial drafts of all the lessons were audio-taped and transcribed by Lil Kison as part of her regular secretarial duties. I also asked her to give me feedback on the interest of the material and any places where it may seem especially confusing.
Initial attempts at copyediting were tried in house by Lynn Anderson-Cook and James Morrissey. However it quickly became apparent that the demands on their time and the need for an expert copy-editor necessitated hiring a copyeditor, Nancy Walker. This gave a much more professional finish to the courses in much the same way that the publication of a book would not go to print without being copy-edited. And also as would be the case with any publication after the copyediting was completed the course author reviewed the comments for accuracy.
5. Technical supervision/programming
Technical supervision was done by Fred Sawka, head of The Internet Training and Development Centre aspect of the Computer Literacy Outreach Department, Grant MacEwan Community College's Arts & Science Division. The course is offered on their server. Mr. Sawka was the crucial person in making the connections between ideas of the author/instructor and the realities of computer/Internet course offering.
The majority of the programming was done by Kevin Collard and Greg Farris. Mr. Collard did the bulk of the initial HTML programming to get the material into format for reading on the Internet while the deeper programming needs of the course were handled by Greg Farris who is also the web master for the class. Mr. Farris designed the bulletin boards for the dream classes which took considerable adjustments to actually work, he also worked with Mr. Collard to create the highly interactive assignment #3 discussed above. Mr. Farris also programmed the course assignments to be automatically put into a spreadsheet format upon submission by the students with each assignment linked to every other one done by the students.
Because of the high percentage of technical problems which constituted about 50% of the course instructors e-mail from students the registration process now includes technical information and access to Mr. Farris as the web master for the class.
Throughout the process of coverting the class from written form to Internet form Jayne Gackenbach consulted. In fact it required close and frequent communication between the author/instructor and the programmers/technical supervisor in order to make this class a web reality. There was/is a deep appreciation for each others expertise and a willingness to work together heeding advise from each other in order to bring this complex and rich course to reality.
7. Test runs of components of course
Various components of the class required test runs. Judith Schadow, Joyce Nethercoat, James Morrisey, and Ann-Marie Scholock worked with the course author/instructor and programmers/technical supervisor to iron out the problems before a beta run was made. For instance the development of the exact format for the on-line dream groups required several adjustments based on trying out various forms until one was found that worked for the logistical needs of this medium of delivery. So too the more complicated assignments were test run by some of this group in order to make their presentation to the students smoother.
8. Recruiting beta students
Students for the beta run of the class were recruited by Russ Powell and Jayne Gackenbach from their students at GMCC and at other college where Dr. Gackenbach teaches. Also contacted people interested in dreams who have Internet access 19% of those registered. Here is a breakdown of the beta group:
9. Instructing beta class
It became quickly apparent when instructing the beta class the necessity to test run such a new media offering. Many glitches ranging from technical to content to person based were identified in this process. Although the course was greeted with much enthusiasm participation trailed off toward the end. These students were after all helping debug as well as learning about dreams. The drop off in participation can be seen in the following statistics regarding assignments done and e-mail correspondence received:
The last two assignments were not filled out by enough beta students to warrent analysis.
10. Marketing first paid offering
Marketing of the first paid offering was handled by James Morrisey and included listing with search engines as well as news releases and one e-mail based paid advertisement.
Authors/instructors credentials: Ideally selected reprints would be available to the student so that they can get not only a better idea about the nature of the credentials of the author/instructor but it would also give the student more detailed information about the specifics of the authors/instructors area of expertise. Copy write permission would have to be obtained but often there are papers which have been presented but never published in their presentation form which the author/instructor holds copyright to which could be used in this form. This depth of information could also take the form of links to other places on the Internet where the author/instructor has publications/interviews/works of art.
Course Bibliography: Because the course is designed for the general population references were not cited in the body of the text. However, links could connect the student to the appropriate references in the bibliography. In fact, even in more academically oriented courses referencing could be done in this way as it may make the read smoother without the traditional in the body of the text referencing.
Course Content: In addition to the normal need to update the content of the course periodically a further enhancement of the course presentation would be further hyperlinks between coups components. For instance, when a student is reading in a lesson about a particular area of focus there might be a link right there to a place on the dream resources page where further details could be found on the Internet. Or a link to the authors/instructors vitae or a link to another course offered by the college where the student could get more information.
Also more visual aspects of the course would enhance its delivery. Similar to a text book pictures, diagrams, tables, etc. inserted in the course help the student to more quickly understand the content. The down side of this is that it increases load time but such imagery could be offered as an option at any one session or in any one section of the course.
Course Assignments: As with the course content the addition of visual aspects would increase the attractiveness and thus the deliverability of the coups. So that in the metaphor generating activity students could be offered images to choose from or a simple paint option to "draw" their dream. There are dream interpretation techniques which rely on such drawing. These drawings could then be posted in a course "dream art gallery" for other students in the class to appreciate. These "drawing" could be a mixture of selected clip-art with personal adaptations.
These course reports are based on the beta run of the class with 40+ volunteers. Unfortunately too few completed the fourth and fifth assignments to do an analysis of the data. These are the reports which were e-mailed to the course registrants.
It was with eager anticipation that I sat down at my computer to look at the results of the first assignment. First let me thank all of you who took the time to complete the assignment. If you did not do the assignment but plan to do one or more of the subsequent assignments PLEASE DO ASSIGNMENT #1 first. The reason is that most of the demographic information is on that assignment. This is the sort of information which makes an analysis of subsequent assignments richer. For instance, if I want to further examine possible sex differences I couldn't if I did not have your assignment one data to determine your sex. Now to the results.
[In order to facilitate the readers scanning this material the variable being discussed is in caps at its first mention.]
Talking about sex differences, to my surprise there are as many men as women in this class. This is very unusual as dream classes/workshops typically draw more women. I'm not sure if this is because men are getting more interested in their inner life or if it reflects the composition of the Internet which is more male than female.
Although the AGE range of the class participants ranges from 16 to 79 the majority are middle aged with the largest age category being 40 to 49 year olds.
Most of those who answered are married (56%) while the next most frequent relationship status was single (22%). Slightly less than half (41%) do not have children.
I was surprised that so many of you are only children or first borns (67%). In the birth order literature only children and first borns share many of the same characteristics including a high achievement motivation.
Almost all of you have some post-high school education while 54% of you have graduated from college. Needless to say the occupational categories were all over the map but the largest represented were those working in computers. Although no one reported earning more than $100,000 a year average incomes were between $35,000 and $50,000 a year.
Although a few students are from outside North America the majority are from this continent with the most from western Canada. Your ethnic background is primarily European.
The demographics of this class basically reflect the demographics of Internet users except the sex ratio. Whereas in classes and workshops on dreams females dominate, due to the large male presence on the net there are more men in this class. Turning the coin around perhaps it is the high incidence of females on this net activity which is unusual. I think that this class, and others like it, provide a unique place where the worlds of men and women can meet. Welcome. Now I will summarize the sleep and dreaming questions from the first assignments.
Sleep and Dream Questions
Given this unusual configuration of the sexes in this dream class I examined many of these sleep and dream questions as a function of sex. That is, I looked at whether men and women differ in their replies to these questions. Sometimes you did and sometimes you did not.
Although females reported sleeping slightly longer then males there were no sex differences in dream recall, having kept a dream diary and the length of keeping a dream diary. Nor were there any sex differences in any of the religious, meditation type questions. However, as a group you indicated that you were significantly more likely to be interested in and have experience with meditation than with prayer.
In terms of the subscales of the Dream Response Questionnaire (DRQ) those that the group scored the highest on indicated that your dreams are vivid in imagery, provide you with personal insight, and you discuss them. Those that you scored the lowest on were rejecting the dream meaning and using the dream for leisure.
In addition, on three of the eight subscales of the DRQ there were significant sex differences. Women were more likely to be especially interested in the story like nature of their dreams and their vivid imagery whereas men were more likely to report rejecting the meaning of their dreams. No sex differences emerged in terms of authorship/style, use of dreams as leisure/escape, spirituality of dreams, discussion of dreams, or insight gained from dreams. I find it a bit confusing that men are more likely to reject their dreams yet report just as much insight as the women in this class. Any ideas???
Some of the Students Comments
Here are some of the comments/questions from the first assignment (in quotes). Where appropriate I have answered or responded to the comments after each comment. My responses are in brackets [...].
You are probably thinking about assignment 3 about now as you will have just finished it or assignment 4 as you are about to start it, but I’ve had my head in assignment 2. Hopefully this time lag will be less of a problem once we get through the beta test. We had a lot of glitches getting this assignment to me and then I had a lot more work in cleaning up the data than I had anticipated. But that is why one does a beta run to iron out such problems.
Again thanks for your time and patience with the glitches that may slow you down from time to time. Before I begin reporting on the results of this assignment I want to remind you to be sure to read the assignment 4 directions early in the week so that if you want to you can participate in an on-line dream group during these last two weeks of this class which you can begin right away.
As with the first assignment the major way that I examined your sense of your typical dreams was as a function of sex. This questionnaire was based on the content analysis work of Calvin Hall and Robert VandeCastle. Because of the many sex differences in dream content, they reported all their data as a function of sex. The norms provided you as you filled out the questionnaire did not examine sex differences. To be fair the degree or type of dream content sex differences is an area of some disagreement. My purpose with these questionnaires is educational and not research thus the inclusion of normative data.
Verbal Aspects of Dreams
The first content question dealt with dream dialogue. For both sexes dialogue was reported as more likely to be in dreams than not so but it was significantly more likely to be reported in the dreams of women. So too women were more likely then men to say that this dialogue/conversation was similar to those that they have in waking life. Given the oft reported superiority of women on various measures of verbal skills this is not surprising. One would have thought, however, that for the second item, degree to which dreams were logical, that a sex difference would emerge (at least stereotypically speaking). But there was none as both sexes reported that on occasion their dreams were typically logical.
Problem Solving Function of Dreams Emerges
The problem solving function of dreams was queried in items 4, 5 and 7. Both sexes felt that their dreams solve problems and that in their dreams they are likely to finish a task. However, women were more likely to say that their dreams give them ideas upon which to base projects.
A particular type of problem which dreams seem to especially work on are those involving some sort of conflict. Items 9 and 10 addressed conflict. Both sexes said that when conflict arises in their dreams it is usually resolved and that the conflict was more likely to happen in the first half of the dream rather than the last half.
Things That Go Bump in the Night!
A series of questions dealt with the various forms of scary/nightmarish dreams. Recurring dreams were unusual for you as a group but slightly more likely to occur among the women than the men. Relatedly the women reported nightmares more frequently then the men. Although neither group said they were very common (women = on occasion; men = rarely).
A nightmarish theme is often aggression and violence and several questions queried this. Both sexes said they often have dreams where verbal or physical fighting occurs. Although if one looks at the wording of the question it does lead the response in that direction. Verbal versus physical aggression was also asked about. Here the sex difference echoed Hall and Van de Castles findings and the research literature on the incidence of verbal versus physical aggression while awake as a function of sex. Among the women 73% said their dreamed aggression was typically verbal while among the men 70% said theirs was physical. However, when you were asked if the dreamed aggression involved you as being verbally/physically abusive/abused you all replied you were verbally abusive. This is in contrast to the questionnaire norms where there was a fairly even distribution between the four categories with slightly more in the "verbally abused" category. This puzzles me, do you have any ideas?
You said that the kinds of aggression in your dreams was rarely similar to the type of aggression you exhibit in your waking life. Dream aggression was typically directed at others (40%) and then at yourself (28%). Everyone said that they typically witnessed aggression rather than participated in it. This is in contrast to the norms provided by the questionnaire authors who report most of their sample saying they participated in dreamed aggression.
Emotional Expressions in Dreams
Both males and females felt that their dreams were typically exciting (59%) while the second most frequent response was that they were disturbing (26%). I suspect this may be an artifact of you as a group, so interested in your dreams that you are taking a course about them. For you these are not boring and relaxing experiences rather they are exciting and disturbing thus you are acting on getting acquainted better with your dream life.
Item 22 listed five ways in which you might view yourself in your dreams, friendly/compassionate, frustrated/confused, embarrassed/humiliated, powerful/successful, and detached/observing. About a third of you feel into each of the first two categories while none reported themselves as embarrassed/humiliated. Eleven percent said they were generally powerful/successful and the final 26% said they were more typically detached/observing.
THE RELEVANCE OF DETACHMENT
When designing this assignment I added the category detached/observing because of my work with witnessing/lucid dreams and sleep. Because of this addition we cannot really compare this classes results to the questionnaire norms.
However, I believe that it represents an important conceptual point in our understanding of lucidity and its relationship to some eastern philosophical perspectives. Specifically, I have proposed in my books and papers on lucidity that it is a bridge state between normal sleeping "consciousness" and what has been called higher states of consciousness. As I have thought about lucidity over the years and spoken to many people about it, it has become clear to me that another important quality in the development of higher states of consciousness is the detached/observer perspective. This is true not only in dreams but also in waking. This is not to be confused with denial or repression but rather is better conceptualized as graceful aging, that state of being where the emotions and stresses of daily life are less likely to impact us. In the Indian Vedic tradition this is called the state of the witness and can exist while asleep or awake. I have done some research with colleagues about witnessing sleep and dreams. We have defined it as that state where one is aware that one is dreaming/sleeping but is detached from the activity in sleep.
Dreams fall along two dimensions which are related to lucidity/witnessing; degree of awareness of the true state you are in (high awareness being knowing you are dreaming while you are in the dream and low awareness being our normal unaware state in dreams) and degree of detachment (high detachment being removed from involvement in the dream and low detachment being caught up in the dream activities). This topology results with high awareness but low detachment as the classical lucid dream, low awareness and low detachment as the average dream, low awareness and high detachment as perhaps another sort of bridge state between average dream consciousness and higher states of consciousness in dreams, and finally high awareness and high detachment as witnessing dreams.
Although there were not enough of you to break into four cells as just described I was able to further investigate differences between those of you who said you generally were detached/observing in your dreams relative to those who said they were friendly/compassionate or frustrated/confused. None, you'll recall, fell into the embarrassed/humiliated category and too few were in the powerful/successful category to include in these analyses.
The first thing I looked at was if there was a relationship between detachment and lucidity frequency. As I had found in my dissertation on lucid dreaming, there was no such relationship. This would certainly support the model I propose above and can not be said to be a function of dream recall as those who differed in these self views in their dreams did NOT differ in their degree of dream recall.
When I examined responses on the Dream Response Questionnaire from the first assignment, group differences were found to be significant in three of the eight subscales; spirituality, discussion, and insight. Those who said they saw themselves as detached in dreams were LESS likely than the other two groups (friendly and frustrated) to see their dreams as spiritual or to discuss them with others. This is important because although lucidity/witnessing can be conceptualized in some sense as a spiritual experience it need not be thought of in that way. Rather as my colleague Stephen LaBerge has often said it may represent a cognitive perspective or tool. Personal insight was significantly more likely to be a part of the dream responses of those who felt they were frustrated in their dreams than for either the friendly or the detached groups.
Among the questions asked in this assignment on your typical dreams there were few differences as a function of the way in which you viewed yourself in your dreams (friendly, frustrated, or detached). However those that did emerge were consistent with these self perceptions. Those who said they felt themselves most often as frustrated in their dreams also reported that when there was dream conflict it was rarely if ever resolved. The frustrated dreamers typical dreams were more disturbing than either of the other two groups and female characters were more likely to be seen as aggressive or weak than was the case in the other two groups. Finally, the frustrated groups dream settings were more likely to be dangerous and restrictive than the other two groups.
Two variables showed distinctions between the friendly and detached groups; if you were the central character and if you had sex in your dreams with people you knew or people who were strangers. The detached group were more likely to say they were the central character while the friendly group was least likely to report being the central character with the frustration group falling between these two. Perhaps to experience friendliness and compassion one also is less central to the dream story while if detached from what is going on around you you remain the central character. Regarding sexuality with familiar versus unfamiliar people both the friendly and frustrated groups were more likely to say it was with a familiar person while the detached group was more likely to say it was with straollowed by techniques for ascertaining the content of ones own dreams relative to norms. The cultural or other group relativity of these norms is pointed out. It is stressed that the dreamer and not the course instructor, friends, psychotherapists, scientists or anyone else is the owner of their dream and thus the final authority on his/her dream.
Assignment: The dreamer is asked to answer various questions about their dream experiences. Norms of the class along with those used in the dream research are provided.
Perhaps I've gone into a bit too much detail regarding this dream concept but it is one which has concerned me for most of my professional life. Let's return now to the rest of the results from this assignment.
Who Are You Dreaming About?
The self is often the most central character in your dream although you said that on occasion you are not the central character (item 32). You reported that you are most often with a few people in those dreams rather than alone or with many (item 31). Among the other dream people, similar to the Hall and Van de Castle norms, females were more likely to say that the characters in their dreams were familiar (item 21). A variation on this was item 26, "Are the characters in your dreams generally people you know?" But here there was no sex difference with both sexes replying, "yes, often". It is difficult to say why these two very similar questions would result in different replies. Do you have any ideas?
People in this beta class said that the dream characters were mostly of the same sex. Whereas they viewed their female characters about the same (item 24), mostly trustworthy and loyal, there was a significant sex difference in how they viewed the male characters. Men reported the men in their dreams were most often (80%) trustworthy and loyal whereas women saw men in their dreams as equally likely to be erotic/sensual as trustworthy/loyal. This sexual element of the opposite sex was not significant different for the female characters.
In fact, when asked about the types of social interactions most common in your dreams it was friendly that was reported by both sexes (69%) while sexual was reported by only 4% of you. This is roughly parallel to the findings of the questionnaires authors.
The last part of the questionnaire inquired in the main about dream sexuality. This began with item 33 which asked, "Many people report having sexual dreams. Are your dreams typically sexual?" There was no sex difference to this item, with most of you replying "on occasion". I need to point out that again the question was a bit leading by it's wording giving permission to say yes I dream about sex. Although sexual dreams occur and vary as a function of life circumstance, Hall and Van de Castle's normative data indicate that it is a relatively rare theme. This was important in their work because of the Freudian emphasis prior to the publication of their "Content Analysis of Dreams" on dreams as being primarily sexual in nature, at least on the latent if not on the manifest level.
Of the remaining sexual dream items only one showed a sex difference, with whom you had dream sex. Whereas 79% of the women said it was people they knew, the majority of the men (55%) said it was with strangers. This reflects the findings of Hall and Van de Castle. Both sexes in the this class reported reaching an agreeable state of excitement in their sexual dreams, that they occasionally or rarely occur in a familiar setting, and that they are often pleasant and emotional.
WHAT'S THAT PLACE CALLED DREAMLAND?
Three of the last four questions concerned the settings in which dreams occurred. There were no sex differences in these items. The setting remained constant "on occasion", in spacious and vast places (48%), indoors (65%), and unfamiliar (73%). Hall and Van de Castle found, in contrast to you all, that men dreamt more about outdoor and unfamiliar settings while women dreamt more about indoor and familiar settings.
Time, Lucidity and Death
Several items were scattered throughout the questionnaire which did not fall directly into any of the aforementioned topics. For instance, and not surprisingly, every one of those who completed assignment 2 said they look forward to their dreams. Females were more likely to say their dreams were colorful. In terms of lucidity in dreams (i.e., knowing you are dreaming while you are dreaming), women reported these experiences significantly more often then men. This is similar to what I have found in the past but when I controlled for dream recall this sex difference disappeared. This may not be the case herein as you will recall that there was no sex difference in dream recall, a question asked in the first assignment.
Three questions dealt with dream time and none showed a sex difference. All of you said that your dreams generally shift time frames but occur in the present (77%) and during the daytime (78%).
Finally, when asked if you ever die in your dreams most said "rarely" or "never". This is consistent with the work of Diedre Barrett who has found that although people dream about dying and then wake up, it is a rare occurrence. Interestingly when people do die in their dreams it tends to be associated with no emotion or pain.
RELIGIOUSITY/SPIRITUALITY IN DREAMS
Needless to say there are many ways in which the data could be viewed from these two assignments but time constraints do not allow me to explore it fully. However, a student e-mailed me upon receiving the results of the first assignment and asked about the religious type variables and their potential relationship to dreams. This is a question which I also find most interesting and alluded to it above so I took some time to try to answer his question.
In the first assignment there were four items which asked about beliefs/practices related in some way to religiosity; prayer and meditation frequency/involvement, religion importance and type of religion. I combine the first three of these to create a religiosity index by converting your responses to standard scores, summing the three variables and then doing a median split on these sums. This left me with high and a low religiosity groups. The highs would have expressed interest in and experience with prayer and meditation and said that religion was important while the opposite would be true of the lows. Keep in mind that because of the way in which I created these groups one person could have said that religion was not at all important to them but if they also said they had experience with and were interested in prayer/meditation they could still have fallen in the high category.
Then I looked at this religiosity variable as a function of the subscale scores on the Dream Response Questionnaire which you filled out in assignment one. Differences were found in four of the eight scales; storydriven, leisure escape, spiritual, and insight. Specifically, those who scored high on religiosity were more likely to be especially interested in the story like nature of their dreams, see them as spiritual in nature, and gain deepened personal insight from them. They were less likely, however, to use dream reflection as a means of leisure or escape.
I then examined the dream content questions from the second assignment as a function of religiosity. First and foremost all but four of the 42 questions showed no difference. In other words, in terms of the specific content of dreams as measured by this questionnaire the overwhelming finding is that there is no difference as a function of the religiosity of the dreamer. I am not really statistically justified to talk about the four differences but I will mention them for your information. The low religiosity group was marginally more likely to say there was dialogue in their dreams and that they finished tasks begun in dreams than those who were classified as high in religiosity.
The other two differences dealt with dream sex! What's your guess? Those who scored high in religiosity, as defined herein, were more likely to report reaching an agreeable state of sexual excitement in their dreams.
I am sorry it took me so long to get assignment 3 analyzed. There were a variety of reasons from computer to human glitches as well as work overload! As I e-mailed you a week ago we have extended the course a week because of the slowness of getting the dream groups up and running. Whether or not you participated in the dream groups or did all the assignments, please be sure to fill out the evaluation form which is assignment #5. In this way we can continue to refine the course for future students. As there is still some activity on the dream groups it will be later this week until I examine the results of assignment #4.
ASSIGNMENT #2 RESPONSES FROM YOU
First about your feedback on the results of assignment #2. There were a variety of perspectives on the questions I posed. They included:
You asked about the area of "verbally abused"....that this class tends to respond as abusing rather than abused verbally in dreams. I wonder if the subconscious is feeling free to work out, a form of retribution, and complete responses to those in the "safe" dream state that the conscious mind feels unsafe and possibly dangerous while awake. This could be also, depending on the date of the "norms" questionnaire, that humans are feeling more anger and agitation that is not being appropriately released on a regular basis.?
The other point you questioned was the characters in dreams being "familiar" or "people you know". I wonder if the difference could be the semantics of the words. Either term could be interpreted as either celebrities or those people who we have regular, perhaps daily, contact with to include; family, friends, co-workers, and those who offer services (teachers, cashier at a frequented business, UPS delivery person).
Perhaps it has been too threatening to admit being abusive in the past? I wonder how they phrased their questions about whether one was abused or abusive. I also wonder about the extreme selectivity of this group and perhaps because of being so highly verbal (one has to be to participate in this project) that the high reporting of being verbally abusive fits with natural skills. It may also be, perhaps, that people who are very involved with dreaming tend to "act in" rather than "act out" and being abusive may be a perceptual twist on what other people may consider normal. By that I mean it may be compensatory for the lack of speaking out or the psychological trouble with having spoken out that this group may demonstrate. These are wild guesses, but fun to consider, and perhaps ideas for theses/research?
The series of questions on aggression were the most difficult for me to answer, primarily because I specifically noted (for myself) that the inclusion of the word "threat of" might have helped shape the answers better. I therefore felt that my answers were the result of "forced choices" which did not fit my general feeling about my dreams. I therefore felt I was contributing unreliable data but did not know what to do about it.
The question of religion and spirituality also posed some problems for me. For example: My mother was Catholic and I started in parochial school, later changing to heavy duty Episcopalian. When I did not feel comfortable with the "We are all born sinners" viewpoint of life and investigated religion by my own choice, I was active in the Congregational framework, but find myself most aligned with the Society of Friends. I find myself much more aligned with a sense of order in the universe (although I sure question the amount of violence we are witnessing worldwide) as my "religion." Questions about "religion" are therefore difficult to answer.
Interpreting the dreams of unseen strangers isn't a task for the verbally timid!
Using myself as a sample of one, I suspect you're dealing w/ group which is very articulate, but sometimes socially w/drawn. They're either verbally aggressive, may they merely fear that they're verbally aggressive. I may be projecting all over my classmates, but this type of activity seems to draw people who sometimes give offense when they're exploring others' internal environments. (Mucking about in others' interior living rooms w/ their muddy boots still on.) Hence the great value of the phrase, "If it were my dream..."
The net also provides some protective anonymity to individuals who fear that their verbal aggression may offend others.
I too rarely dream of my own death, at least one of these dreams was among the most joyous I've ever had. There was a tremendous feelings of relief as my body was incinerated in an atomic explosion, but I felt no pain and my spirit lived on. I felt wonderful knowing I continued to exist and no longer needed to fear death.
As the the rest of your feedback I find it FASCINATING and am already imagining ways to adjust my clinical work from it's influence.
What a wonderful variety of takes on the last assignment. You make me realize why it is good to discuss findings with the people who actually contributed to the data. I hope this information will enrich your understanding of the last set of results. Now I will discuss the assignment #3 results.
Part 1: Metaphor Dream Interpretation Task
We had even more computer type problems with this assignment than with getting the dream groups up and running. Programming wise the programmers came to call part 1 of assignment #3, "The assignment from *%#@!" I think there may still be some problems with it both technically and more importantly with your understanding of how to go about doing it, but perhaps I am wrong. In any case I do hope you will give me your impressions on it, understanding wise, in the final evaluation or by e-mail. Although most of you completed it once on the practice run where you were instructed to think about a dream "action" and then about an "animal" which might serve as a metaphor for that dream action, very few went further than once. Any insight as to why you did not go further would be appreciated. I tried it with a class here at Grant MacEwan Community College and we ran into some major technical glitches so I am unsure of the nature of the problem.
Therefore the analysis I was able to complete are based only on the practice run, action/animal. Remember you were asked nine questions about the metaphor exercise, with two exceptions your average responses were half-way between the two extreme possibilities. So that it was moderately easy to reflect on the animal, the imagery fit moderately well, and so forth. The two exceptions were in terms of your perceived novelty of the animal which you choose, not at all novel, and upon completing the exercise you were very curious about the meaning of the action in your dream imagery.
As with the previous two assignments I examined sex differences in responses to the nine metaphor questions. There were no sex differences for seven of the nine questions. Females were significantly more likely to respond that they were sensitive to aspects of the the animal they choose which they typically would have ignored than were males. Likewise, females were also more likely to say that they knew or understood their animal vis a vie their dream in a way that could not be put into words.
Curiously there were no comments submitted for this part of the assignment whereas you wrote a lot about the next part.
Part 2: Individual dream interpretation task
Virtually all the people who did the first part of the assignment also did this part with the same dream, which occurred in the last week and were from 50 to 200 words in length. Interestingly there were no sex differences for any of the questions asked in part 2 of assignment 3.
After having written down the dream but having done the metaphor exercise, your anticipatory feelings about this part of the activity were high. Specifically, you felt the dream was important, you were curious about it, found it moderately confusing, frightening and exciting, felt it had a lot to do with your life and felt that you already understood some of it but felt there was more to know. All but one of these seven dimensions showed a significant change by the end of this dream interpretation activity. Specifically you felt the dream was more important than in the beginning, less frightening, more exciting, had more to do with your life and you understood it more than at the beginning of the individual technique. However, you reported that your curiosity was about the same and you were at once more confused about the dream while also feeling like you understood your dream more. This last seems a bit contradictory, what do you think?
When asked to pick which dream aspect categories the words, phrases or images you circled in your dream were from, you responded most frequently that they included yourself (72%), the dream place (83%), and dream persons (72%). Slightly less likely to be mentioned were dream actions (61%) and dream objects (50%). There was only one sex difference in these choices, all of the males included a dream person while only 58% of the females did so. Here are some of the words/phrases which you circled in your dreams: old lady; crucified man; protective; construction or mining machinery; termites; large silver box; anxiety; on the sly; and pager. Even without the context of the dream or the person I find this list potentially evocative. We begin to see the universality of dream images/emotions.
You were then asked to write a sentence about yourself including each of the words/phrases. After writing these sentences you said basically the same things you said in the beginning of this task, at least quantitatively (i.e., in the beginning the average felt importance of the dream was 1.6 and after the sentences it was still 1.6). There were some slight shifts in your average quantitative replies towards the eventual final feelings. These continued for each stage of the process. However, when you read some of the sentences the quality of the exercise begins to emerge:
All these sentences reflect themes of the human condition and are certainly ones that I find I can relate to. Can you?
You were then asked to rewrite the dream from the perspective of one of the words/phrases that you had chosen. Again your quantitative replies again evidenced slight shifts in felt meaning but this spontaneous comment demonstrates some of the impact of this part of the activity, "When I rewrote the dream from the perspective of the other woman there, I felt upset for me; obviously to the other, I was quite upset and worried over not knowing what to prioritize: my need to give birth and protect my baby, or to uphold my work responsibilities."
Recall that you were then asked to enter into an imaginary dialogue with the chosen word/phrase and then to write a "to do" statement based on what emerged for you from the dreamwork. Here is what some of you wrote:
Feelings of uncertainty also characterized this process: "I am not at all clear about the dream message. But I wonder, what is it that I am supposed to look at? So my statement is, "Do look at that! Do look at that!" and "The format was limiting; it would have been much better to have done this in, maybe a group of women, so that we could share and discuss. On the other hand, it allowed me to focus on myself, without interference." Despite this uncertainty it was also useful: